Local councils in Sydney have reportedly gone to extreme measures to catch and close down unregulated brothels, including paying private investigators to accept sexual services.
A number of private investigators are apparently regularly employed to go into suspected brothels which might be operating as legitimate massage parlours, and procure sexual services as proof that there is more going on than therapeutic massage.
In a recent case, Willoughby council allegedly hired a man to sleep with prostitutes to provide evidence to close down an illegally operating brothel. Sydney has tight regulations surrounding brothel licensing, but in some areas it is believed that unlicensed brothels outnumber the legal ones, and it can be by as much as four to one.
Although these may seem like excessive measures, councils are reportedly fed up with the constant promises by governments to provide compliance officers and support to close down illegal brothels, so they are finding the evidence to take them to court themselves.
According to reports, over 10 different Sydney councils have made use of private investigation services to check out suspected brothels by visiting them and paying for sexual services.
This, along with the subsequent legal and court fees, is believed to have cost ratepayers over $60,000 in total so far.
Demand is apparently high, with one private investigation firm reportedly advertising for investigators who would be willing to take on the work.
Why are illegal brothels a problem?
Many massage parlours advertise themselves as legitimate massage businesses, but also offer sexual services on the side and this is what investigators are paid to prove.
The licensing laws surrounding legal brothels in Sydney make sure that certain standards are being adhered to and workers are protected.
Unfortunately, unlicensed massage parlours don’t have to abide by the same standards, which can potentially leave workers vulnerable and open to exploitation as well as create health risks for clients.
Organised crime often has links to the sex industry, with reports that drugs are being offered at many brothels alongside sexual services.
The NSW Government’s attempts to regulate the industry also have the intention of weakening those links.
As part of the licensing process, brothel owners have to undergo background checks to find out whether they have any obvious links to organised crime or other illegal activities.
Certain health and safety regulations have to be adhered to, and regular inspections carried out to ensure that legal brothels are in compliance.
If they are found to be non-compliant, they run the risk of being closed down.
Can councils close down illegal brothels?
If a local council finds a brothel that is operating illegally they can issue them with a brothel closure order.
Brothel closure orders can only be issued in premises where there is more than one worker.
There are a number of other situations in which a council can issue a brothel closure order, including where there have been complaints from neighbours or if it’s believed that the brothel is impacting the local community or not complying with regulations (in the case of a licensed brothel).
Private investigators have reportedly been used to investigate brothels that are allegedly still operating after the council has requested their closure.
This was reportedly the case on Sydney’s North Shore, where North Sydney and Willoughby councils allegedly sent in spies to brothels on more than two occasions where they had failed to comply with closure notices.
The Scarlet Alliance – the peak national sex worker association in Australia – is strongly opposed to more stringent licensing of brothels and sex workers, believing that education instead of criminalisation is the best way to protect workers.
Anyone who runs a brothel or massage parlour and believes they are under investigation should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Penalties for running an illegal brothel can be severe, especially if other alleged offences are involved.